MANILA — Amid the “furor” surrounding the deaths of 9 activists on “Bloody Sunday,” Supreme Court magistrates on Tuesday said they are considering a proposal requiring law enforcers to wear body cameras to prevent abuses in the service of warrants.
“The Court today considered a proposal to require the use of body cameras for law enforcers who will execute warrants to be issued by the trial courts. A Resolution will be drafted which will be further considered soonest,” Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a statement.
Sources from the high court said SC justices had a “long conversation” about the issue during their weekly en banc session.
The proposal was “unilateral” or based on the initiative of some justices, meaning, there were no parties who filed any requests regarding the proposed measure.
Human rights lawyers have previously called on the Supreme Court to review the rules on the issuance and implementation of search warrants after simultaneous raids in Batangas, Cavite and Rizal ended up in the killing of 9 activists.
One of the sources confirmed to ABS-CBN News that the discussion on the use of body cameras was “related to the furor over [the] implementation by police of warrants that have resulted in deaths.”
RELATIVES, WITNESSES CONTEST POLICE VERSION
Police have claimed that in all 9 instances, the activists supposedly fought back and resisted arrest.
As evidence, police presented guns, ammunitions and grenades supposedly recovered from the possession of the deceased.
But relatives and witnesses have contested the police’s version of the events.
The mothers of couple Ariel Evangelista and Chai Lemita-Evangelista said the couple were handcuffed, dragged away from the cottage they were staying in and brought to a nearby house where they were later shot, based on what Ariel’s 10-year-old child saw.
The lawyer of Bayan Cavite coordinator Manny Asuncion said there was no service of search warrant. Law enforcers allegedly barged into his office and brought Asuncion into a room where he was killed.
Relatives of Puroy dela Cruz, a member of the Dumagat tribe, who was killed in his house in a remote village in Tanay, Rizal pointed out there could not have been a shootout since they were surrounded by dozens of uniformed and armed policemen.
They also pointed out, if dela Cruz fought back, why were bullet holes found only on one side of his house?
Relatives also denied the activists killed and even those arrested owned guns, ammunition or explosives.
The daughter of 61-year-old paralegal Nimfa Lanzanas, who is currently detained after being charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, said it would have been impossible for her elderly mother to keep dangerous firearms and explosives in a house with 3 minors.
The PNP earlier rejected allegations policemen resorted to planting of evidence.
But questions surrounding the proper implementation of search warrants had long been raised, most recently with the arrest of journalist Lady Ann Salem and 6 trade unionists on International Human Rights Day last year.
Salem and her companion Rodrigo Esparago were later cleared of illegal possession of firearms and explosives after a Mandaluyong court voided the search warrant against them for being “vague.”
Police confiscated cellphones and laptops not specified in the search warrant, in what the court described as a “fishing expedition.”
Activists and rights groups have claimed the Philippine government is “weaponizing” search warrants against alleged communist rebels, urging the Supreme Court to review the rules on search warrants to prevent further bloodshed.
SUPREME COURT RESPONSE
In the wake of the killings, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta directed Court Administrator Midas Marquez to submit a report surrounding the issuance of the search warrants used on “Bloody Sunday.”
In his report, Marquez said the PNP applied for a total of 72 search warrants before the Manila and Antipolo regional trial courts a few days before “Bloody Sunday,” of which 46 search warrants were issued after 2 days of hearings.
But he stressed: “…the issuance of the search warrants by the judges and their judges and their service or implementation by the law enforcers are two (2) different acts.”
Last week, chief justice nominee SC Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando also sought to defend judges who issued search warrants according to the rules, during his interview with the Judicial and Bar Council.
“If he really issued it on the basis of what our rules required, I think the judge should not be blamed for that. It’s a different thing when it comes to the implementation of the search warrant,” he said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, for his part, did not discount the possibility of abuses in the service of search warrants.
“Kung minsan, may tendency na gumamit ng unnecessary force ang mga nag-eenforce o nagseserve ng search warrants kaya nandoon ang problema,” he said.
“All we need to do is for people affected to bring it to the attention of the proper authorities concerned so that the proper administrative and necessary criminal sanctions can be imposed,” he said.
The Philippine National Police had previously entertained the issue of using body cameras during police operations following the thousands of suspects killed in drug operations.
That proposal had languished for years since it was proposed in 2017.
It is not immediately clear how the PNP will comply should the Supreme Court decide to require the use of body cameras in the implementation of warrants.